25 Jun. 2014 | Comments (0)
I often have the opportunity to review Fortune 1000 companies’ confidential employee engagement surveys. Even when there is some good news in those numbers, I can tell you that they almost always include some cause for concern — or even alarm.
A few examples come to mind. As the economy continues to improve, albeit slowly, I’m seeing more surveys showing that employees are becoming less inclined to stay with their current employer if a comparable job were to become available elsewhere. One of our clients learned that the majority of their employees believe that the company’s leaders are not all that interested in the ideas and suggestions of their people. That same company also learned that people felt that their leaders were espousing the company’s values, but then behaving very differently.
My own experiences are comparable to what Gallup reported in its 2013 American Workplace Survey of some 350,000 employees. That study showed that fewer than 30% of employees in the U.S. and Canada are engaged. A regional problem? Not at all. That percentage compares favorably to the rest of the world. Gallup estimates that employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged are costing companies between $450-$550 billion in the United States alone each year. Those dollars show up in the form of customer service, quality defects, and productivity—just to name a few striking examples.
When executive teams come together to do the post-mortem on these surveys, the conversation typically turns to compensation and benefits. This is the most tangible solution, but it has two problems. First, it’s expensive. Second, it doesn’t work. The Beatles once sang, “Can’t buy me love.” Well, you can’t buy engagement, either.
Don’t get me wrong. Compensation and benefits are important. If they’re inadequate, they can contribute to disengagement and turnover. Moreover, competition for the best talent requires that you offer a package that “keeps you in the ballgame.” Yet, to harken back a few decades to my MBA coursework, we have to remember that compensation and benefits are what psychologist Frederick Herzberg referred to as “hygiene factors.” If they’re lacking, they can lead to dissatisfaction. If they’re present, then they will help an employee become “not dissatisfied.” However, there’s a big difference between “not dissatisfied” and being actively engaged.
So what can we do about troubling results on those employee engagement surveys? We need to better understand what leaders can do to align, engage, and fire up employees to deliver that above-and-beyond effort that characterizes the highly engaged organization.
It turns out that a leader’s ability to leverage different aspects of his or her character is critical to engagement. The key facets of character are:
• Authenticity – Being genuine and transparent
• Integrity – Being true to your values
• Concern – Conveying that you sincerely care about your people and their development
• Restraint – Being moderate and deliberate in your words and actions
• Humility – Knowing you don’t have all the answers and being willing to learn
When leaders are strong in all or most of these facets of executive presence, they inspire trust, credibility, and goodwill. They are able to get people to buy in faster in the face of ambiguity, obstacles, or change. If a leader with these qualities has to change course or make a tough business decision, people are much less likely to wonder if there is a hidden agenda.
To put it more simply, when people truly understand and appreciate who a leader really is and what they stand for, they become far more likely to go the extra mile, whether it’s in developing an innovative new product, finding a clever way to save money, or resolve an issue with a tough but important customer.
So how do we help leaders use the facets of character to their advantage? After all, isn’t character fairly fixed? Well, yes, it is: Much of character is based on early childhood development. That said, we have found that many leaders underrate the importance of character. They don’t pay much attention to it, and they often need coaching or mentoring to understand how to best amplify and leverage their character so it leads the above-and-beyond effort associated with engagement.
In my coaching experience, I’ve seen employers make great strides with amplifying their character:
• One leader realized that his family upbringing had led him to conclude there is no need to share his personal side, flaws and foibles included, so he didn’t. This private style created all kinds of misperceptions about who he is as a person. We worked on using storytelling as a tool to help him share more of his values and beliefs in a way that felt safe and relevant.
• Another global leader of commercial business for a Fortune 200 company was renowned for his character. It was a primary factor for his upward rise through the ranks to an executive leadership role. However, the Chairman and CEO perceived his soft-spoken style as weak and ineffective in the competitive marketplace. We helped this leader clarify actions and accomplishments for the CEO that highlighted where his approach was making tangible impact on real metrics like market share and rebuilding sales teams. His character engaged top sales talent in high potential markets globally and attracted them to come on board. The CEO ultimately became his biggest fan once the numbers began to reflect the impact of the leader’s presence in the market.
So, if engagement scores are missing the mark, focus on assessing your leader’s strengths and development needs with executive presence. With the right support, any leader can take concrete steps toward amplifying their character and becoming a force of alignment and engagement.
And if someone tries to tell you that employee engagement can be bought with compensation and benefits, don’t buy it!